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Come fall, the Ellensburg School District will implement a hybrid schedule combining in-classroom with remote/online instruction at least for the first quarter..

The Ellensburg School Board voted unanimously at its Wednesday meeting to adopt the hybrid model.

This hybrid model would have students split into two groups, “A” and “B”. One group would take classes at the schools Mondays and Thursdays, the other would take Tuesdays and Fridays. Wednesday would be used as an online/study day. All day’s students wouldn’t be in class would be online days.

During their time in class, students would be required to follow safety guidelines, including wearing masks and social distancing. This is in accordance to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) guidelines.

The OSPI guideline states that schools should have some form of in-person education, even if it is a hybrid model, which is what ESD is doing. Schools are encouraged to create a flexible plan for the future.

The district sent surveys to families to get an idea of what the community wanted to see when students returned in the fall. Over 1,000 people took part in these surveys. The results of the surveys showed around 700 parents preferred the all-back model, with around 350 against it. Five hundred-and-fifty were were in support of the hybrid model with just over 500 against.

However, if the district were to use the all-back model, it would still be required to follow OSPI and CDC guidelines.

It would be next to impossible to keep all students physically distant. Especially during lunch, which would normally have students sit around tables.

“When we did measurements with some of our classes, and especially at Morgan Middle School which would be very full next year, we couldn’t meet that to its full extent,” Haberer said in the meeting.

School Board President Tosha Woods said she is thankful for everyone who took part in the surveys and the forums. She said the district heard their voices and understands they were not happy with the distance learning model that had been used.

She said the district is working very hard to ensure the distance learning that will be partially used in the fall will be a vast improvement of the one used in the spring.

“Our district is working very hard to ensure that No. 1, our health and wellness is centered, and that No. 2 education and learning is centered,” Woods said.”

Kittitas County Health Officer Dr. Mark Larson said at the meeting social distancing in the all-back model would be extremely difficult. He said the two tools currently used to fight COVID-19 are social distancing and wearing masks.

“It’s not that really I want kids to get sick, but I really don’t want the parents and their grandparents to get sick, and that’s what’s gonna happen,” Larson said.

Dr. Larson said in the meeting if the district brought all students back, a large outbreak would be likely, this would cause the school to be close and move back to remote education.

To put the social distancing in perspective, Larson pointed out that in the May, Twin City Food outbreak, most people infected came in contact with two other people. Now that people are going outside and interacting with each other more, that number has shot up to eight to 10 contacts.

He said if one student gets the coronavirus, and the district sends all students to school at once without social distancing or masking, it would be likely other students will bring it home and infect their families, who will interact with those eight to ten other people.

The hybrid model was selected because it balances community safety while educating students in person. Superintendent Jinger Haberer recommended this model to the school board because of these reasons.

Even though the county recently moved to Phase 3 of the plan to re-open the state, Dr. Larson said it is unlikely the county will be in Phase 4 by the time school starts in September.

He said predicting the future implications of COVID-19 is difficult, and the answer to almost every question someone has is, “it depends.”

“We don’t really know, what direction this is all going to go,” he said.

The decision to use a hybrid model was voted unanimously by the Ellensburg School Board.

SCHOOL BOARD REACTION

“I think that our chances of being able to maintain and sustain this hybrid model is much higher than our chances of being able to keep 24 kindergarteners in their corners of the room, particularly at the beginning when we are still learning it,” School Board member Jennifer Hackett said. “I think that this hybrid model is the best option, I am glad that we’re looking at it for at least this first quarter. I hope that we can go back to a more regular model if at all possible after that.”

“Basically, I think this model is realistic, I think bringing all our students in at once, we probably can’t fit them all in,” School Board member Meg Ludlum said. “I also think it’s flexible. I think it’s better to start with a hybrid that you can move in various directions from as conditions dictate and we certainly don’t know that the conditions will be.”

“This is a hard decision, it’s a tough decision,” School Board member Jason White said. “Not everybody is going to be happy with this decision, it’s just the way it is… I know that if I was a parent I would still be unsettled, I would still be, probably frustrated, it’s not what I would have wanted.”

“Looking at how many states and communities now are experiencing a real upsurge in the virus because they got groups of people together. That’s a real lesson for us that we can learn from,” School Board member Dan Shissler said. “We are doing a good job of keeping that from happening. This is a real community effort and I think we all need to be responsible for the process.”

“This is inherently an emotional time. It is our communities most precious assets, and it’s our families most precious assets, our kids,” Woods said. “This plan provides flexibility and choice in there and it seems to be the safest going forward.”

QUESTIONS TO SUPERINTENDENT

Superintendent Haberer responded to a list of questions from the Daily Record on Friday.

Q: How realistic is it the district will return in full without a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: ESD is required to follow the OSPI/CDC guidelines. Kittitas County Health Officer Dr. Mark Larson is required to be as strict as OSPI/CDC in following their requirements, and could choose to be stricter. The current guideline from OSPI is to implement a six-foot social distance between students and between students and staff, especially when they are seated and during lunch.

We will not know what our true numbers of students will be within classrooms and schools until late August. At this point in time, we do not know how many parents/students will choose to participate in the online Virtual Academy. We anticipate having the sign-ups for this online program in late July, or early August.

By starting with the hybrid model for the first quarter, we will be able to determine the actual number of students who choose to participate in the in-person, at-school model. If the numbers choosing the in-person model are lower, then it may make social distancing for all students more manageable.

Additionally, Dr. Larson recently shared with our staff that it is his hope that by the time September rolls around, the six-foot distancing requirement could change to potentially three feet, which would make bringing all students back to the building more feasible. The landscape and research around COVID 19 is ever-changing, and we are eager to have our students back in our buildings.

Q: How would the hybrid groups be separated in A and B?

A: We are in the process of putting students in A and B groups by attempting to keep families together in the same A or B group and balancing numbers at individual schools and classrooms. This process is still in progress.

Q: How will this model affect the school start date?

A: We will start school on our original start date. For our students who have Individual Education Plans (IEPs), we will be working closely together with our special education team to start school earlier for those students whose IEPs require this extra time.

Q: What metric would be used to determine if the school can return students full time?

A: The ability to follow the guidelines that are in place at the end of the first quarter will be important. We will work closely together with Dr. Larson towards the end of first quarter to evaluate our ability to return students back to school full time.

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